Where Will China's Space Station Land?

Where Will China's Space Station Land?

China's space station is falling back to Earth out of control, its engineers admitted at a news conference and said they believe most of the spacecraft will burn up as it returns next year. Its replacement, Tiangong-2, was launched on Thursday, and is due to receive its first manned mission from Shenzhou-11 in mid-to-late October.

For the moment Tiangong 1 remains whole, now orbiting the planet more than 200 miles above Earth's surface.

Currently, the orbiting lab remains whole, orbiting the Earth over 200 miles above its surface. Translating as "Heavenly Palace", the originally manned module completed its mission in March this year, but has been left in space unmanned and drifting aimlessly, leading some experts to speculate that the government had lost control of Tiangong-1. China just launched a new space station, Tiangong-2, earlier this month.

We saw this same king of thing nearly 40 years ago when the USA space station "Skylab" re-entered Earth's atmosphere and dumped some debris around 500km outside of Perth, Australia.

Now orbiting at an average of 370km (about 230 miles) above the Earth, the station is expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere in the second half of 2017.

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In a press conference on Wednesday, Chinese officials appear to have confirmed what many observers have long suspected: that China is no longer in control of its space station. The statement was pretty scarce on details, but there was a clear implication that they've lost control of it. That kind of uncontrolled re-entry tends to make headlines: You may remember NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite falling to Earth in in 2011 and the European GOCE satellite in 2013.

More recently, astrophysicist John McDowell told The Guardian that in his eyes, China's announcement of the upcoming re-entry suggested the craft would be falling "naturally", without any human steering.

Knowing this, China has promised to continue monitoring the orbit of Tiangong-1 and provide warning of any potential collisions with other objects.

Where exactly the parts might come down is impossible to say without knowing where they begin to reenter the atmosphere and the weather conditions in those areas. Earth is such that the odds favour the debris landing in an ocean or hitting an uninhabited area.

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